NEW YORK — Family, friends and pro-life activists gathered on the first Friday of September in gratitude for the life of Faith Abbott McFadden.

McFadden, 80, died Aug. 30 after a long and recurring battle with cancer. She was the widow of James P. McFadden, who founded The Human Life Review in 1975 and was its editor for many years. Mrs. McFadden carried on her husband’s work, serving as senior editor of the Review and editing a column in a bulletin he’d started, Catholic Eye.

The McFaddens married in 1959, and the couple had five children, one of whom, Robert, died after his own fight with cancer. A daughter, Maria Maffucci, is editor of The Human Life Review.

Faith McFadden is remembered on The Human Life Review’s website as “beloved matriarch” of the Human Life Foundation, which publishes the journal dedicated to both eradicating abortion and documenting these dark years in our nation’s history.

“Matriarch” is the most apt description. She was really the journal’s lifeblood — a contributing writer, constant presence, inspiration and motivation. McFadden, who stuck with the typewriter for herself until the end, was a calming presence, the type of person who, plenty engaged herself, made you reflect on what exactly it was you were busy with. Rather than hit the refresh button, like so many of us do all too often, she was herself refreshing, by her love for life and for eternity, reminding us of our purpose.

During an extraordinary form requiem Mass at St. Agnes Church in Manhattan, right down the block from the flurry of Grand Central Station, Father George Rutler remembered Faith, a friend of his, as the “mother of sons and daughters who loved her who loved them, and who spread that maternal bond to many others whom she instructed in the ways of God by writing and by the example of her life, which is the most eloquent literature written on the heart.”

He recalled how, upon her husband’s death, she unflinchingly took up the work of The Human Life Review. “And now,” Father Rutler said, “we are left with the impossible task of counting how many of the least little ones, even unborn lives, she defended by her witness to the sacredness of every human life. That witness engaged the most important struggle of our age, defending life in a culture of death.”

Father Rutler, pastor of the Church of Our Savior in Manhattan and an author himself (and EWTN host), compared McFadden’s commitment as a writer, editor, activist and model for building a culture of life in response to our culture of death to the work of another emancipation in another century.

“In 1862, Abraham Lincoln received Harriet Beecher Stowe in the White House,” Father Rutler recalled. “The president looked down from his height of six feet and four inches at the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who was four feet tall. The account says that he feigned surprise and then said, ‘So, you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.’ Faith Abbott McFadden, wife, mother, grandmother, author and friend, did not start any war, but she fought well in the fierce contest between the truth of life and all the lies against it.”

McFadden had a penchant for puns, which she would whip out devoutly at every annual Human Life Review fundraising dinner — an “annual celebration of those for whom there are no maybes . . . about saving babies,” as she would rhyme.

Remembering this, Father Rutler continued: “She made it seem easy by ready wit, not disdaining even that most disdained form of humor, the pun. Wise men have believed that there are even divine puns which we pass off as coincidences but which are acts of Providence. To play with words is tribute to the Living Word who plays in the world he made. Such conscious humor is not the vaudeville bravado of those who ‘laugh so as not to cry.’ It is a descant on love, not sentimentality, which gives hope, not vague optimism, and which, in turn, is founded on the first virtuous gift of faith.  Faith was named for faith in baptism, and the way she lived made real that precise definition given by God’s lively oracle: ‘Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.’”

“Faith,” he continued. “It is by the lives we live that what we hope for becomes a fact and what is invisible becomes clear.”

Faithful Mother

Faith McFadden, a convert to Catholicism from the “Moral Re-Armament” movement that began in the 1930s, wrote about her conversion in Acts of Faith: A Memoir, which was published by Ignatius Press in 1994.

Recalling her baptismal instruction and apostolic struggles, she wrote: “Being a saint means saving your soul, which sounds selfish and easy; but it isn’t easy, and it’s not a private thing, either, because of that mysterious, imperceptible but definite interrelation between your own life and the lives of many others you know and do not know. If you are a friend of God, you will inevitably make other friends for God — just by being.”

By which she meant: “It is the saints’ presence that is prophetic. As the saint lived his daily life, he may have felt that he was somehow part of God’s overall plan; but he knew that it was not up to him to interpret or even to understand this plan.”

This spring, her daughter Maria Maffucci, the current editor of The Human Life Review, paid tribute to Faith as Maria herself was being honored for her pro-life witness by Good Counsel Homes.

“When my kids ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Maria said at the annual New York Ball for Life, “I tell them that I wanted most of all to be a mom; and so, I have achieved my dreams.” Pointing to the one who demonstrated the joy of motherhood, she talked about her gratitude for having hers a little longer: “All my family is especially blessed this year — exactly five months ago today, on Dec. 6, my mother, Faith, underwent risky and arduous surgery. Her children were huddled in the waiting room at Lenox Hill Hospital, watching anxiously for the surgeon to come out and give us updates. The decision to have the surgery was not an easy one — my siblings and I didn’t want to pressure her to take extraordinary means to save her life if it would involve so much risk and potentially extraordinary suffering — and yet, she knew, and we had to admit, that we wanted her to do all she could.

“My brother Patrick put it best: He wanted her grandchildren — my three and my sister Christina’s enchanting twin girls … to have a chance to spend more time with and really know their granny. We kids just wanted our mom — that never really goes away. And so, my mom chose life. After successful surgery and a long recovery, she is doing amazingly well and is here tonight.”

In his homily, Father Rutler recalled: “All faithful mothers bring human life closer to the mystery of eternal life by nurturing it first in the flesh and then in the Spirit. There never was a true mother who was not a good teacher, and the Church in her prophetic role teaches her children mysteries which by their very nature are beyond our invention.”

And so Faith did and continues to through the writing and human legacy she left us.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.